Day 9 – Exploring Provence, France on Noordam

Day 9 – Exploring Provence, France on Noordam

Gail Jessen, Live Voyage Reports

I admit it, I’m one of the Francophiles who believe there are few places on Planet Earth more beautiful than Paris. Well, Readers, I can also admit when I’m wrong. I’ve now been thoroughly seduced by Provence. I’m cheating on Paris. My French tour guide Olivier did his job well, which as he told us: “My promise to you is to help your mind birth beautiful memories of Provence, full of crystaline light. Together we now drink in the joie de vivre that is the hinterland of Provence. To Lourmarin!” I mean, seriously. That’s the sort of poetic day I was in for right off the bat.

The Noordam docked in Marseille, the gateway to Provence via the Mediterranean Sea. Six-hundred miles south of Paris, Marseille has 1,000,000 inhabitants, making it the second largest city in France (behind Paris). The Noordam docked 12 miles from the city center and a HAL shuttle was 16 Euro roundtrip. I decided instead to become one of 22 million annual visitors to the “orchard of France.”

Prior to WWII, 50% of the French population were farmers. Today, only 8%. © 2014 Gail Jessen
Prior to WWII, 50% of the French population were farmers. Today, only 8%. © 2014 Gail Jessen

Our excursion was to take us to Roussillon and Gourdes, medieval hill towns (or as the French say in their lyrical way, “villages that are perched”). Our guide and driver decided to surprise us with a third town, Lourmarin. The town is most known for its olive oil production. I learned that 10 pounds of olives make one liter of oil. You always want to purchase the Extra Virgin Olive Oil, first press. They typically leave the green olives to ripen on the trees until deep black. Lourmarin was just waking up as we arrived. The village is small and winding, with friendly locals rightfully suspicious as to why we were invading their little village. I considered spending my free time people watching at a cafe in one of the town squares; but alas, I spotted a boutique selling scarves down an adjacent alley. Game over, no cafe for me. Clearly I needed to purchase something in which to wrap all those bottles of honey and olive oil. Totally justified.

I found the most charming part of Lourmarin to be the doors. © 2014 Gail Jessen
I found the most charming part of Lourmarin to be the doors. © 2014 Gail Jessen
The most significant difference I noticed between the medieval villages of Italy and France is that France has modernized the villages to a greater (more fashionable) degree. © 2014 Gail Jessen
The most significant difference I noticed between the medieval villages of Italy and France is that France has modernized the villages to a greater (more fashionable) degree. © 2014 Gail Jessen
This is a private residence in Lourmarin. It appears from the outside to be three stories with a single mailbox. Delightful. © 2014 Gail Jessen
This is a private residence in Lourmarin. It appears from the outside to be three stories with a single mailbox. Delightful. © 2014 Gail Jessen
Charm as only the French can. © 2014 Gail Jessen
Charm as only the French can. © 2014 Gail Jessen

On our drive through the mountains to Roussillon I learned about the pigeon houses of Provence. Back in the day owning pigeons was a sign of wealth. One bird equaled one acre of land. The pigeon houses are large stone towers, most converted into guest homes and B&Bs (something else to add to my wanderlust bucket list). The mountains climbed to 4,000 feet above the sea level of Marseille and wound around olive fields and wine vineyards. Someone on the coach asked about the lavender fields and Olivier broke the bad news: “Only three weeks from the end of June to beginning of July is there lavender in bloom. We hide it in the mountains nowhere near the sea, 2,500 feet up. What you think you will see is only a tourist brochure.” The disappointment was short lived as we rounded each corner and the panorama became ever more beautiful.

Once in Roussillon we had a bit of free time before lunch (included in the price of the tour). I spent my free time the way I’ve spent most of my time for the past eight days, which is to say getting lost in narrow cobblestone alleys, popping into non-souvenir boutiques when I see them, and photographing gorgeous labels in wine stores and unique doors I spy along the way. Rousillon is known for its ochre quarries and towering red rock formations. I felt right at home coming from Utah’s red desserts and stone arches. There were many places in my walk around the town to overlook the whole of Provence and admire the red cliffs on which the small village is perched.

The red ochre cliffs of Roussillon get their color from high iron oxide content. © 2014 Gail Jessen
The red ochre cliffs of Roussillon get their color from high iron oxide content. © 2014 Gail Jessen
Steep shortcut to the old town center of Roussillon. © 2014 Gail Jessen
Steep shortcut to the old town center of Roussillon. © 2014 Gail Jessen
The Maison Commune de Roussillon. Could there be a cuter town hall in all the world? No. © 2014 Gail Jessen
The Maison Commune de Roussillon. Could there be a cuter town hall in all the world? No. © 2014 Gail Jessen

We all met for lunch at Restaurant David in the Hotel Le Clos de la Glycine. It was elegant and delicious. The warm Provence light streamed in the windows as we overlooked the lush green valley. To say it was a charmed experience is an understatement. I may have picked up a Provence Real Estate Guide on my way back to the bus. You know, some day.

A posh Provencal lunch indeed. © 2014 Gail Jessen

Gourdes is hailed as the most beautiful village in France. I would eventually like to visit every village in France to confirm (because journalism), but for now I’ll agree. It’s another village perched above rolling vineyards and chateaus. The name means water reserves or springs. Approximately 1,000 people live in Gourdes today and according to my Provence Real Estate Guide, you can rent a four bed, four bath property for 7,000 Euro in the month of July. I’m told the temperatures reach “no higher than 95 at that moment.” In related news, I’m also told there is a high speed train running from London, Paris, or Amsterdam that arrives in Provence in less than 6 hours. About the price tag Olivier cooed, “When you love, cheri, you don’t count.” He of course said this in French and I of course nearly signed the dotted line right then and there. Dreamy.

The view of Gourdes in the warm Provence sun is, as Olivier promised, a lasting memory. © 2014 Gail Jessen
The view of Gourdes in the warm Provence sun is, as Olivier promised, a lasting memory. © 2014 Gail Jessen
Thankfully at least one medieval engineer thought to put steps in their hilly streets. © 2014 Gail Jessen
Thankfully at least one medieval engineer thought to put steps in their hilly streets. © 2014 Gail Jessen
The Baroque church with tromploi painted everywhere was not at all what you'd expect from the stark stone facade. © 2014 Gail Jessen
The Baroque church with tromploi painted everywhere was not at all what you’d expect from the stark stone facade. © 2014 Gail Jessen
The stairs to the organ in the cathedral in Gourdes are built like the town, steep and narrow. © 2014 Gail Jessen
The stairs to the organ in the cathedral in Gourdes are built like the town, steep and narrow. © 2014 Gail Jessen

One parting word, if it’s even necessary, about the myth of The Rude French. I for one, on the record, have never had a negative experience in France. Not one. I speak enough French to get by and that may contribute to my friendly treatment, but regardless. Olivier explained the cultural difference in such a beautiful way in answer to someone’s question during our tour. He said that as long as you say “Bonjour” in the proper accent…and wait a moment…you will be treated kindly from there on out. He said, “To speak to the French, you pull us out of our mind. You pull us out of our reflection. This is the purpose of life, no? So you say hello and give us a moment. We are a thoughtful people. Slow down to go at the speed of France.”

Tomorrow the Noordam will go slightly faster than the speed of France as we enjoy a day at sea. We arrive in Barcelona the next morning. I’m going to be honest with you about Barcelona: We have an overnight in port…meaning I’ll be roaming the streets eating tapas well into the night … meaning I’ll likely write my Barcelona report on the flight home…meaning you can pop back here in a couple days to read the wrap up of this itinerary. It’s been a joy to share this experience with you, so do come back. We’ll finish strong.

I hope you’re enjoying your virtual vacation. Until the next report…bon voyage,

gail

Holland America Line Noordam, Mediterranean Explorer

DAYPORTACTIVITIES
Day 1 – Exploring Rome, Italy on ms NoordamCivitavecchia (Rome), ItalyStep off the cruise ship, linger at a sidewalk café in the early evening, and take in the pageantry: The taste of cappuccino, the kiss of warm air, the immaculately attired locals getting their evenings started. Rome is nicknamed the Eternal City for the array of icons (Colosseum, Pantheon, Castel Sant'Angelo, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica), and for the role it played shaping the Western world. There is perhaps a less-recognized genius in the way the city embraces the sensual side of life, as if to acknowledge there's no eternity like the present.
Day 2 – Exploring Capri, Italy on NoordamCapri, ItalyThe docile bay, the peaceful, cypress-tufted islands of Ischia, Procida, and Capri, and the muscular city of Naples itself. Over it all looms Mount Vesuvius: A volcano, national park, and persistent corrective to hubris. Cruise to see the only active volcano on the European mainland, which blew in A.D. 79 and buried the city of Pompeii. Naples itself is mere enduring greatness. One of the chief commercial cities of Europe, highlights include Castel dell'Ovo, Castelnuovo, and national museums dedicated to art and archaeology. The city center has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the surrounding area is dotted with cultural and historical treasures, not least them the restored ruins of Pompeii.
Day 3 – Exploring Palermo, Sicily on NoordamPalermo, Sicily, ItalyTraces of Roman, Arab, and Norman influences mix in Palermo. The highlight of the city is the Norman Palace with golden Byzantine mosaics.
Day 4 – Exploring Greenhouse Spa on NoordamLa Goulette (Tunis), Tunisia - CANCELLED DUE TO SECURITY CONCERNSThe stop in Tunisia was cancelled due to security concerns. The ship rerouted to Cagliari, Sardinia.
At Sea
Day 6 – Exploring Pisa, Italy on NoordamLivorno (Florence/Pisa), ItalyIf one mistakes Livorno for another city across the Italian peninsula, all is be forgiven. The Venice District of town is a tangle of streets crisscrossed by canals. A beautiful Renaissance city in its own right, Livorno is also the gateway to Pisa (north) and Florence (west). Pisa is home to beautiful cathedrals, palaces, and bridges over the Arno River, as well as an infamous monument to faulty engineering. Florence represents so much of what is vital to human expression in commerce, politics, and the arts.
Day 7 – Exploring Calvi, France on NoordamCalvi, Corsica, FranceRumored to be the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, Calvi is a small, stunningly beautiful beach resort town on the Island of Corsica (known to be the birthplace of Napoléon Bonaparte). Visit Notre Dame de la Serra Chapel and take in 360° views of the bay and surrounding mountains, explore the centuries-old fortress Citadel of Calvi, a remarkable example of Genoese architecture, and relish time relaxing on one of Corsica's secluded white sand beaches.
Day 8 – Exploring Nice and Eze, France on NoordamMonte Carlo (Nice & Eze), MonacoThe principality of Monaco is the essence of the Riviera: couture fashion, grand yachts, and nightlife centered around its famed Casino.
Day 9 – Exploring Provence, France on NoordamMarseille (Provence), FranceA salty city with a feel and culture all its own. Try the renowned bouillabaisse or tour the lovely towns and vineyards of Provence.
At Sea
Day 11 – Exploring Barcelona, Spain on NoordamBarcelona, Spain (overnight)Barcelona effuses the ancient, the modernist, and the Gaudi. Legend has it the city was founded by Hercules 400 years before the founding of Rome. Whatever the truth, the city today is a global capital of commerce, fashion, culture, and sunshine (300 days a year). Enjoy a walk down Las Ramblas, the glorious tree-shaded thoroughfare at the heart of the city. Claim a patch of sand on one of the city beaches. Do not miss the creations of visionary architect Antoni Gaudi. Seven of his creations are honored as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including La Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, and Casa Mila.
Barcelona, SpainItinerary ends with a 6:00 am disembarkation.
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4 Comments

  • I’ll take Provence over Paris every day of the week. Hell, I’ll take Ogden, UT over Paris most days of the week. Send my best to Albert Camus and happy continued travels 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Gwyn! We did indeed experience the birthplace of Camus. That was a highlight for me. I do feel slightly guilty for having taken a mistress, after all Paris was my first French love. We just grew apart.

      Reply
  • I always say that the light is different in Europe. Particularly in France. You’ve done such a lovely job of capturing it.

    Reply
    • The light in Provence is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It’s a photographer’s dream. I cannot believe I ignored it in favor of Paris for so many years!

      Reply

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